Monthly Archives: October 2015

Managing Landscapes Sustainably

Remember when autumn meant making a pot of soup, pulling out the leaf rake, and spending an afternoon raking leaves into backyard piles for kids and dogs to enjoy? Life in the fast lane has changed all that, degrading the quality of life on many fronts. According to Quiet Communities –a national non-profit organization dedicated to protecting our health, environment, and quality of life from the excessive use of industrial outdoor maintenance equipment—tasks once done manually are now often done with gas-powered machinery. A manicured aesthetic has become the new norm in many communities that barely tolerate even small amounts of leaves or debris. As a result suburban landscapes have lost critical “messy” habitat that insects and other vital species need to live, leading to a loss of biodiversity.

No one wants to breathe in the polluted air created by gas-powered leaf blowers. Photo c Quiet Communities.

No one wants to breathe in the polluted air created by gas-powered leaf blowers. Photo © Quiet Communities.

The deafening roar of gas-powered leaf blowers (GLBs) has replaced the “woosh, woosh” of the rake, and painful noise is just a small, if most noticeable, part of the trouble GLBs cause. Their motors send particulate matter into the air at 200 m.p.h., spewing forth dust, mold, pollen, pesticides, rodent feces, lead, arsenic, other heavy metals, fertilizers, fungicides, and herbicides right into our lungs. These particles aggravate asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and allergies; in fact, particulates have recently overtaken second-hand smoke as the second greatest cause of lung cancer after smoking.

One GLB produces as much smog as 17 cars and blows 5 pounds of particulate matter into the air per hour, affecting the air of 8-14 neighboring properties. “Every time the leaf blowers are in our neighborhood, my son starts wheezing and has to use his inhaler,” said one father in Huntington, New York. Those are just a few of the reasons a group called Huntington C.A.L.M. (Citizens Appeal for Leafblower Moderation) has formed to educate local citizens about the harm caused by unregulated two-stroke Gas Leaf Blowers. The group’s goal is to limit the use of GLBs by commercial landscapers during summertime when more people are outdoors. Suffolk County received a grade of “F” for air quality for the last 14 years, and this group hopes to improve our air by placing a summertime restriction on GLBs in Huntington.

To learn more about how you can make healthier landscape decisions, come to CCE Suffolk’s Managing Landscapes Sustainably conference in Ronkonkoma on November 12. One of the speakers includes Jamie Banks, PhD, MS, Executive Director of Quiet Communities, an environmentalist and health-care scientist dedicated to promoting clean, healthy, quiet, and sustainable landscaping and agricultural practices.

Robin Simmen is Community Horticulture Specialist for CCE Suffolk. She can be reached at or at 631-727-7850 x215.

Native Plants Champion Biodiversity

Ever wonder whether it really makes a difference whether or not you plant native species? Do native plants do a better job of hosting local insect communities than their non-native counterparts? Now a University of Delaware study shows that not only are natives much better at sustaining local insects, planting non-natives actually compounds the problem of declining species diversity because non-natives support fewer herbivore species across our landscapes.

A yellow swallowtail enjoying a purple coneflower. Photo by Mary Howe.

A yellow swallowtail enjoying a purple coneflower at the Children’s Garden at Suffolk County Farm, part of the National Pollinator Garden Network’s Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. Photo by Mary Howe.

The research was conducted by Karin Burghardt and Doug Tallamy, who is professor of entomology at University of Delaware and author of the bestselling book, Bringing Nature Home. Together they published their findings in a recent issue of Ecology Letters: To conduct their study, they planted imitation yards with different common garden selections of both native and non-native tree species, and then collected data over a three-year period, measuring the herbivore communities and species found on those plants.

Tallamy said that finding young herbivores on a plant is a good indication of how that plant is supporting the local ecosystem, as opposed to finding adult insects, which could be on a plant for a number of reasons, such as resting or looking for a mate. “The relationship between the adult and food is far weaker than the relationship between immatures and food, so when you find adults on the non-natives, it doesn’t mean that much. When you find immatures, that’s what you should be measuring,” Tallamy said. “Those are the plants that are creating those immatures, and so we do get significant differences between the immatures that are using native plants versus the immatures using non-natives.”

He also stressed that that native plants always do the best job per tree of supporting herbivore communities when compared to their non-native counterparts. This study expands the understanding of that fact by looking at whether that lower per tree diversity is magnified further by non-natives hosting more similar communities across trees species and locations.

Burghardt said the goal of the research was to understand how the composition of the plants that homeowners plant in their yards affects herbivore communities. “What the gardens we constructed for the study are trying to replicate are landscaping decisions that people might make if they wanted to support native insect communities that in turn support much of the diversity around us.”

Learn more about how what you plant affects biodiversity at the Long Island Native Plant Initiative’s biennial Native Plant Conference on Saturday, October 24, at Farmingdale State College. LINPI’s Registration Flyer includes a symposium agenda and list of speakers.

Robin Simmen is Community Horticulture Specialist for CCE Suffolk. She can be reached at or at 631-727-7850 x215.

Apply Now for Master Gardener Volunteer Training

CCE Suffolk trains Master Gardener Volunteers to provide the public with gardening programs and activities that draw on the horticultural research and experience of Cornell University. MG Volunteers receive research-based instruction and are kept up-to-date through continual exposure to the latest developments in environmental horticulture. In return, they agree to share their knowledge with neighbors by volunteering to do community service. After completing the training course and volunteering for 125 hours, they become certified as CCE Suffolk MG Volunteers. Suffolk County’s MG Volunteer Program, along with similar programs in other counties in New York State, is directly linked to Cornell University as part of its National Land-Grant College charter. This tie to Cornell provides MG Volunteers with state-of-the-art gardening knowledge.

A happy tribe of MG Volunteers keeps the Children's Garden growing at Suffolk County Farm.

A happy tribe of Master Gardener Volunteers keeps the Children’s Garden growing at Suffolk County Farm.

Anyone who enjoys gardening and has a desire to share knowledge and skills in their community can apply by October 31, 2015 to become a MG Volunteer. Every year hundreds of these service-minded folks from Suffolk County do the following:

  • Organize a Spring Gardening School for the public, including workshops, exhibits, and a plant sale
  • Table with gardening information at community events
  • Cultivate the land and teach youth at the Children’s Garden at Suffolk County Farm
  • Design and help maintain community beautification projects, demonstration gardens, community gardens, and school gardens
  • Offer gardening talks and classes at public libraries, schools, and for interested groups
  • Create and participate in programs for senior citizens, youth, and the physically and mentally challenged
  • Teach the proper care of lawns, shrubs, trees, and flowers, and how to grow fruits and vegetables
  • Install exhibits and provide gardening information at flower shows and events such as the Suffolk County Farm PumpkinFest and the Bayard Cutting Arboretum Fall Harvest Festival

The next training course for new MG Volunteers will be held in 2016, beginning February 3 and ending June 29. We are revising the curriculum and weekly schedule to provide more hands-on training and make it accessible to people who work Monday through Friday. Starting February 3, weekly Wednesday evening lectures will be held 5:30-8:30 p.m. at CCE Suffolk, 423 Griffing Avenue in Riverhead. Starting April 2, Saturday morning classes will also be held 9:00 a.m.-noon in the field (weather permitting) every other week at various locations from Amityville to Riverhead until the course ends June 29.

The cost of this comprehensive gardening course remains $375 with an additional $125 deposit, refunded upon completion of 125 hours of volunteer service. Download an application here.  For more information, please call or email me soon; the deadline is October 31.

Robin Simmen is Community Horticulture Specialist for CCE Suffolk. She can be reached at or at 631-727-7850 x215.